One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 4/25/19

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Screening Thursday, April 25, 2019 at 7:30 PM

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was released in 1975 to critical and popular acclaim. It garnered the top five Academy Awards®: Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. Only two other films have accomplished that: It Happened One Night (1934) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). The story of a “free spirit” clashing with a “control freak” is a classic sixties theme of man against the system.

Ken Kesey, author of the 1962 best-selling novel, became the godfather of the hippie movement after he and his Merry Pranksters were profiled in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. That non-fiction book chronicles a group of hippies as they follow The Grateful Dead around, spiking Kool-Aid with LSD and serving it to concert-goers. Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, California. “Yes, McMurphy is fictional,” Kesey said, speaking of the novels protoganist, “inspired by the tragic longing of the real men I worked with on the ward, the sketches of whom, both visual and verbal, came more easily to my hand than anything before or since, and those sketches gradually enclosed for me the outline of the hero they wanted. And yes, I did write the book both on the ward and on drugs, double checking my material so to speak.”

Director Milos Forman (Ragtime, Amadeus), said that he directed the film in a naturalistic style. “I was fascinated just to see real faces on the screen. That’s what cinema verite, like Titticut Follies (1967), taught me.” With that goal in mind, Forman, at the request of Dr. Dean R. Brooks, the head of the Oregon State Hospital, cast 89 real patients as extras. Brooks appears in the film as Dr. Spivey, the head of the institution. Forman and the cast and crew lived at the hospital for weeks prior to shooting.

Forman originally wanted Burt Reynolds to play McMurphy but the studio wanted a critically acclaimed actor, so Jack Nicholson got the nod. Most of the other cast members were unknown at the time. It was Christopher Lloyd’s (Taber), Brad Dourif’s (Billy), and Will Sampson’s (Chief) first film, and William Redfield’s (Harding) last. He died of cancer six months after filming. Louise Fletcher, chilling in her portrayal of Nurse Ratched, says that she can no longer watch the film because her character is so disturbing. It is perhaps no coincidence that her hair resembles the horns of the devil.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had its premiere at the 1975 Chicago Film Festival (with Robert Ebert included in the audience in the 3,000-seat Uptown Theatre). Despite going radically over budget, the film was both a critical and commercial success, with a reputation now firmly cemented as one of the classics of 1970s cinema.

Jack Nicholson on Set
Jack Nicholson on the set of Cuckoo’s Nest

One Froggy Evening (1955, Chuck Jones)

The feature will be preceded by an animated short film, One Froggy Evening. From legendary Warner Bros. director Chuck Jones , One Froggy Evening is listed in the National Film Registry and was described by Steven Spielberg as “the Citizen Kane of animated shorts.”

One Froggy Evening